July 8, 2012

Filthy Review - In the Land of Blood and Honey

In the Land of Blood and Honey (2011)

Review by Jude Felton

When Angelina Jolie set out to write and direct her feature length debut, the world was probably expecting a multiplex friendly movie that would be sure to rake in a few dollars. What is probably also true is that a movie about the war in Bosnia, of the 1990’s, was also not what was expected. Add on to that the film would be shot in Bosnian, Serbian and Croatian and the shock would no doubt be complete. That is what she has done though with the In the Land of Blood and Honey and to her ultimate credit she has delivered a quite remarkable movie.

The central plot of the film centers on a relationship between Ajla (Zana Marjanovic), who is a Muslim, and Danijel (Goran Kostic), who happens to be a Serb, which is in its early stages. When they first meet all is good in the world, but this is short-lived when war breaks out, separating Muslims and Serbs, and turning neighbors on each other. Ajla finds herself taken prisoner, along with many other women, and confined to doing menial chores for their captors.

In a strange twist of fate Danijel finds himself as one of Ajla’s captors and, as a fairly high ranking officer, tries to make Ajla’s life as comfortable as he can. Of course, this is no easy task, as the deep rooted hatred that is felt between most, but not all, of those involved makes it difficult without drawing attention to the situation. Both sides find themselves conflicted about their personal feelings and their duty to their sides of the war, and the question is constantly asked as to whether love can continue in the middle of a warzone.

There is of course far more going on in this movie than just the focus between the two lead characters; further family complications are encountered, the concerns on how the outside world is viewing the war and the atrocities committed.

One thing Angelina Jolie has not done is to shy away from the horrors of war; this is quite harrowing viewing in some places. No attempt has been made to glamorize any aspect of the events portrayed, with some scenes really hitting quite hard. Even with all the on screen horrors, which aren’t particularly gory, but still very effective, Jolie has found a small amount of space to interject a few moments of levity into the melee. These scenes generally focus on how people in the middle of this conflict tried to put on a brave face, and without making light of the situation, try to live in as much of a sense of normality as possible.

Although the film does falter slightly in the latter third (the movie runs to just over 2 hours) it still makes for quite engrossing viewing. Even through the madness of war the film still retains moments of beauty, with the locations looking quite beautiful on Blu-ray. Even so, this is a movie about war and Jolie has shown that she can handle the writing and directing reins impressively so, and this can only bode well for the future. A point of interest included on this release is the inclusion of an interesting Q&A with Jolie and one of the film’s stars, Vanesa Glodja, who themselves lived through the war. The Blu-ray version of the movie, which is reviewed here, contains the film in its native Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian, whereas the accompanying DVD includes an English language version.

Overall, In the Land of Blood and Honey was not only an impressive debut feature film for a director, it was an impressive film full-stop. It is far more accomplished film than recent war films such as 5 Days of War and The Whistleblower and, even if it does seem a little heavy-handed in places, it still proves to be a powerful film.

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